Students at Memorial University have launched a project that uses hydroponic systems, built by at-risk youth in St. John’s, to help fight food insecurity in Northern Canada.

Statistics Canada defines food insecurity this way, “Food insecurity exists within a household when one or more members do not have access to the variety or quantity of food that they need due to lack of money.”

Statistics Canada’s most recent study on the subject found that households in Canada’s North experienced exponentially higher rates of food insecurity than households in other parts of Canada.

Students involved in Project SucSeed designed a custom hydroponic system made from recycled materials. They employ at-risk youth to assemble the systems, which are sold to schools, old age homes, food banks, and individuals all over the country.

They use the profit from the sale of these units to help establish food sharing networks in Northern communities. So far two hundred hydroponic units have been sold to individuals and facilities across the country.

Taylor Young, a student involved in Project SucSeed, explained that hydroponic systems are a great tool for fighting food insecurity because they are able to grow produce up to twice as fast as traditional gardening methods.

Hydroponics are also advantageous because they are affordable to operate and environmentally friendly; they use very little electricity and very little water.

Project SucSeed partnered with Choices For Youth, a St. John’s based organization that has been providing at-risk youth with stable housing, employment and education for over twenty-five years. Project SucSeed pays these young people to assemble the hydroponic systems.

“We knew this was an opportunity to create much needed employment for marginalized youth in the province,” Young said about the partnership with Choices For Youth.

Project SucSeed students spent time in northern communities running a needs assessment before launching their project. The students asked residents how the hydroponic systems could be used to help fight food insecurity in their communities.

Residents felt that individuals should be given the option of either selling the produce grown in the unit to the local store, or trading the produce through a food sharing co-operative.

“In many of these communities sharing is already an important part of their culture. They’re small communities everyone knows each other, so we knew that a food sharing co-operative would be a great way to continue doing that,” Young said.

Project SucSeed partners with food security networks and health and wellness centers in the North to identify individuals to participate in the program. Many of the individuals already have experience with other gardening programs. Selected individuals are given a micro-loan to buy their own hydroponic unit.

Inez Shiwak, who was chosen to participate in Project SucSeed, had previously worked on a gardening project facilitated by the Food Security Network in Rigolet.

“It’s exciting that people are able to grow some fruit and vegetables for their home and maybe pass some on to people in the community,” Shiwak said about Project SucSeed.

Shiwak says one of the successes of the Project SucSeed is that it involves not just the participant but their whole family in gardening. Her nieces and nephews are excited to check on the progress of produce growing in her hydroponic system and she has used Project SucSeed as an opportunity to teach them about the life cycle of plants.

Project SucSeed hopes to contribute to food security in the North by helping individuals make fresh, affordable produce available to people in their community.

“We are starting these food sharing cooperatives throughout the North with the hope that they will bring the price down, and the quality up for fresh foods,” Young said. That’s  Project SucSeed’s ultimate goal.